'Multi-stakeholder' management of Internet should stay

Current framework to govern online space by ICANN, which involves policymakers and industry and technical user groups, necessary and preferred over negotiating balance of international interests, says observer.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor on

Given that the contract to oversee the global domain name system will be up for renewal this September, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will be organizing a global conference to review existing policies to include Internet management aspects into ongoing treaties, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the future of the World Wide Web.

One Internet Society executive argued that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' (ICANN) "multi-stakeholder" approach to managing affairs of the Internet should continue regardless which entity wins the contract from the U.S. Department of Commerce, though.

Rajnesh Singh, regional director of Internet Society's Asia-Pacific bureau, said the nonprofit organization is a "strong advocate" of ICANN's multi-stakeholder model that involves all concerned parties including policymakers and industry and technical user groups to participate in its decision-making process.

"This multi-stakeholder approach has proven to be nimble and effective in ensuring the stability, security, and availability of the global infrastructure, while still giving sovereign nations the flexibility to enact and enforce relevant Internet legislation within their borders," he stated.

"This model has been a key contributor to the breathtaking evolution and expansion of the Internet worldwide."

He declined to comment, however, on whether ICANN will be able to renew its contract after September, and whether other organizations winning the bid might affect the development of Internet growth.

Multi-stakeholder model not perfect
ICANN councilor and CEO of DotAsia, Edmon Chung, had last June pointed out that the multi-stakeholder model is not perfect and its decision-making processes are still in their very early forms. ICANN was also described by him as a "human experiment" that allows dialogue between diverse communities that have a stake in the online world.

He added that on the issue of ICANN cutting all ties from the U.S. Department of Commerce, it is not possible to create a body that everyone has an equal say in because society has not evolved enough to allow for such an organization.

ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom, whose tenure at the organization ends on Jul. 1, also alluded to frustrations during his time there and pointed to a significant internal threat that might undermine its credibility.

He said in March, during the organization's 43rd public meeting, that it was time to further tighten up the rules that have allowed perceived conflicts to exist within the board. "This is necessary not just to be responsive to the growing chorus of criticism about ICANN's ethics environment, but to ensure that absolute dedication to the public good supersedes all other priorities."

Both ICANN and the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA) did not respond to ZDNet Asia's questions.

ITU model not suited
On the possibility of the ITU assuming the reins from ICANN, Singh pointed out that he has "serious concerns" about this due to the negative impact of some of its upcoming proposals seeking to "fence off the Internet within the constraints of national telecommunications regulations".

The ITU will be holding its World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) this December, when 193 member states of the union will review and modify the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR)--a 1988 treaty that currently governs traditional telecommunications.

The director also noted that today's "international treaty making process" might not be the most effective way to manage cross-border Internet communications, or that some of the proposals up for discussion this December are "not consistent or compatible" with the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance.

"Applying these old rules to the way Internet traffic moves between borders could have wide-ranging effects on interoperability and security, and could foist new costs on end-users," Singh said.

A separate report by the New York Times (NYT) on Monday shed more light on the WCIT event, stating that the draft being prepared for the meeting includes several Internet-related provisions including measures to counter spam and bolster cybersecurity.

However, it does not include any proposal to change the Internet's core governance functions, which are handled by ICANN, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium, the report stated.

ITU's secretary-general Hamadoun Toure also told NYT: "It's unfortunate that the [U.S.] Congress is spending so much valuable time on something that isn't even on the table. There is no single reference to Internet governance in the preparation document."

The ITU senior official's comments were aimed at the U.S. House of Representatives hearing in May 31. Democratic and Republican government officials had spoken out then against proposals from China, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia calling for a less U.S.-dominated process, saying that if these are adopted, it would lead to a virtual takeover of the Internet, according to a report by ZDNet Asia's sister site CNET.

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